In which I learn that my lactation superpowers have limits

I never wanted to be that parent on an airplane, the one with the baby who screams and won’t stop, and up until yesterday I hadn’t been. I thought I had it figured out, that my choice to practice extended breastfeeding meant that I always had the proper tool to quiet my little ones. But if there’s a cardinal rule of parenting it’s this: the moment you get cocky about anything is the moment you dig your own grave.

Yesterday we flew from Seattle to Boston—a five-hour flight—and Stump, who is currently eighteen months, screamed for an hour straight. I’m worried that an hour sounds unimpressive, so allow me to add a little detail.

It began only a few minutes after we boarded, probably around the time that Stump figured out the airplane was going to be his temporary prison, that he would be loosely confined to my lap for an indefinite period. It was nap time, and he’d already been confined to the car seat and later the stroller since he’d awoken at six. And so, he began screaming and thrashing with all of his bobcat strength.

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“Ten minutes,” I told myself, trying to restrain him so that he wouldn’t kick or head butt the large elderly man who shared our row—did I mention I was traveling sans partner? I figured once the plane started moving, Stump would settle. I’d nurse him (awkwardly, hiding from the old-man-neighbor), and he’d easily fall asleep. Whatever passengers he was annoying would calm down, wipe their foreheads and think: that baby’s not so bad.

The plane started moving. I tried to nurse him. He complied for a moment, then bolted away, arching back and screaming. I rushed to cover up my nipple. We repeated this at least four times until I gave up on the power of lactation to calm him. In my world, this is the sign of a serious problem. I held him and rocked him and begged him and shushed him and tried not to break down and cry. “You have to go to sleep,” I hiss-whispered.

“He’ll give it up eventually,” the old man reassured me. I wondered: what if he didn’t? What if he cried for the entire five hours and eight minutes? I told myself that even if this happened, the flight would end eventually, but I knew that every hour would feel like a decade. Those five hours would add up to longer than I’ve even lived.

The old man got up to use the restroom, and on his way back I overheard a woman offer to trade seats with him so that he could relax. He told her “Oh no; it’s fine.”

Stump was still screaming when I felt him fart through his diaper. It was an especially stinky fart for a baby, and it wafted right up into my face. It was then that I began to suspect that I understood the problem. Minutes later, I checked his diaper, and saw a tiny brown turd. He leaned into me crying. His crying was different than his screaming—it contained a hint of relief. He leaned into me, pooing, just letting it all go.

You see, Stump is a guy who poops on the move, not in his car seat, not in his stroller, and definitely not while his mom is force-nursing him. I wanted to get on the PA system and announce: “Fellow Passengers. He Just Had to Poop. Everything is Going to be Fine.”

Instead I dug through my bag for a diaper and wipes. Red-faced and sweaty, I carried my stinky baby to the bathroom and changed him on top of the toilet while he continued to scream. He screamed as I washed my hands and he screamed all the way back to his seat. But when I offered my breast he took it and instantly melted into a puddle of sleeping baby. My fellow passengers wiped their brows and collectively thought, That baby has issues.

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10 comments

  1. Love it. Boobies are usually my kid’s kryptonite also – I can’t help but feel panicky on the rare occasion that my lactation superpowers (great expression!) fail to do their job. Having them fail on a plane is the stuff of nightmares. Well handled! (And thank goodness you were seated next to a patient stranger, not a cranky one!).

  2. It’s definitely interesting to hear what it’s like on the other side, for the mother and baby on the plane compared to the rest of us passengers. Sounds like you both ultimately handled everything w/grace.

  3. so funny only a parent can really understand the humor of wanting to share the news of poop being the reason behind the crying! I find myself often wanting to “defend” my child’s discontent through explanations of being tired, having to poop, breaking a new tooth or hitting some big developmental milestone. The next thought it why do I do that? Why I am trying to explain the cause of her distress to others or myself? Is it because I think others will think I am not a good parent? Or even worse, is it that I will think I am not good a good enough parent? Judgment and making assumptions is a thing we do to make ourselves feel better, but really it just points out what it is we feel most insecure about. I don’t know what is harder, letting go of these thoughts, or letting our children suffer what it is they have to suffer without trying to defend them or protect them feeling their pain.

  4. Oh, no! (Oh, yes.) I can’t even begin to imagine handling the crying, thrashing toddler for two and a half hours. Because that would be my kryptonite. The inability to control something that would make everyone in a contained space hate me. I mean, I think I would have been contemplating a Mommy time-out on the wing. Or Ativan. Or a mid-morning cocktail. Thank god for poop. (And boob, which I’ve just noticed is upside-down poop. It seems appropriate to acknowledge somehow.)

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